Guy Clark is a name I feel like I should know better than I do, and looking at what he’s done, only reinforces that feeling. He has written for Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare, among others, has a dozen studio albums to his credit that include great songs like “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” and “Texas, 1947,” was a close friend of Townes Van Zant, and Bob Dylan recently named Clark as one of his favorite songwriters. Still, most people I mention his name to say something like, “That name sounds familiar.”
For this album, Clark wrote all the songs, except for Townes Van Zant’s “If I Needed You,” which holds the center spot on the album (It’s a great cover and a standout here.). Actually, he co-wrote the other songs with a number of different songwriters, which helps explain the variety of themes. While the songs do vary substantially, the quality of lyric is consistent through the whole, with great lines like, “When she don’t say nothing – man, I hang on every word.” He’s very good at setting the tone of a song with an opening line, like “When the sun comes up on nowhere, I got nowhere left to hide,” “She’s sneaky like Tennessee whiskey, she always takes me by surprise,” or “I’ve been riding high so long, I can’t see the ground” (from “The Coat, “All She Wants is You” and “One Way Ticket Down,” respectively).
Clark’s warm, timeworn voice sounds great hear, and he’s joined by a strong group of musicians, accenting his songs with fiddle, mandolin, bass, cello and drums in addition to the guitar work of Clark and Verlon Thompson (whose lead work is showcased on “The Guitar.”). Not an over-produced album, it has a warm, loose feel, and the instrumentation never gets in the way of the songs. The easy-going nature of the record belies the complexities of the music, and it’s easy to forget how good it actually is. Clark doesn’t go out of his way to call attention to his songs, and perhaps that’s why so many of us only vaguely know him. Maybe we should pay more attention.